Church Views · Culture · Marketing · On Being Christian

buying a brand

Yesterday Jen Taylor Johnson posted a great article at the Christian Standard, calling out Bible publishers who keep creating repackaged versions so we’ll keep buying.

“…I see it as one more indicator of American Christianity’s consumer mind-set. A simple study Bible in a reliable translation is not enough? We need the ‘Personalized Promise Bible’ that inserts our name into the text, the ‘Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing Edition,’ a ‘Thomas Kinkade Lighting the Way Home Family Bible’?”

I had actually been thinking about this topic over the weekend, and here’s where I landed: Our culture has a consumer/branding mindset, combined with an obsession for individualization. And this combination is dangerous for believers.

For example, let’s say you used to buy Tide laundry detergent, and I used to buy Era, and someone else bought Gain. We identified with these respective brand preferences.

Today, there are 48 different versions of Tide. There’s Tide with “Acti-Lift” (vivid clean), Tide Vivid White+Bright (whitens & brightens), Tide plus Febreze Sport (work out odors from workout clothes), Tide plus Downy (softeness you can feel), Tide Free (gentle on your skin), Tide Coldwater, Tide Totalcare (keeps your clothes like new). Plus, liquid, powder, pacs and pod versions of all the above.

See what Tide did there? We can be as differentiated and individualized as we like, but we’re all still using the same brand (Tide).

So in Jen’s scenario, the brand is “Bible.” It used to be enough for a believer to carry a Bible – maybe the NIV or the NLT. But being the consumer individuals that we are, we’re compelled to differentiate ourselves from everyone else. So boom! – 200 versions of the Bible with which to demonstrate our individuality.

Here’s where my thoughts were this weekend: This is also why online dating sites have become so successful. It allows singles to shop our brand (Christian) but still differentiate our specific consumer preferences: tall and thin, blond with big boobs, athletic/outdoorsy – we can now shop for prospective spouses online based on any number of preferred criteria.

And it seems to me this happens because the Church has failed to understand the concept of being “in the world” but not of it. In fact, we’ve joined hands with the world, jumping on the bandwagon of differentiating brands: we’re culturally relevant, we’re seeker-friendly, we play secular music, we’re the hipster church, the fun church, the artsy church. And just like Tide, you can get podcasts, streaming, video and satellite campus versions of all the above. We’ve focused on marketing to consumers. And we compete with each other.

What we as churches may have misunderstood is what our brand really is: counter-cultural community, the body of Christ. This is what differentiates us – not from each other (who cares?) – but from the world. And it is only here – when we lay down our desperate need for individualization – that we find our true identity. Sinners saved by grace. Consumers, now contented. Takers, now generous givers. “High maintenance,” now serving others as more important than themselves. We’re Brand Jesus – and there’s no differentiating. “There’s neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free…”

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